Friday, April 4, 2008
Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium
THEME: a whole lotta Q's (or, none)
I always breathe a mini sigh of relief when I see Quarfoot's byline. I know that the puzzle will be entertaining, thorny in parts, but ultimately on my wavelength. He thinks like I think - well, more than any other constructor, that is. Today's puzzle was great fun, though there were no real struggles involved in finishing. Completed the puzzle by going from NGAIO (28D: Contemporary of Agatha and Erle) to LIMETREE (14A: Linden) with only a few hesitations here and there - and, as usual on late-week puzzles, I did it in a leisurely fashion, over breakfast, so that I could really appreciate the puzzle. I need a few days a week where I'm not speeding through - it's enough pressure just trying to get the puzzle done and blogged by 9am EDT every morning. Sometimes I need to just slow down and take a few bites of cereal and sips of tea in between answers. Not speeding on late-week puzzles also allows me to track my own progress and remember it better, for blogging purposes. This one started in the East, then I took the Q staircase down to the W and SW, then I jumped to the SE, then NE, then finally NW, where the last "E" in LIMETREE was the final letter to go into the grid.
I'm going to bet that I'm one of the only people in the world who started this puzzle with NGAIO. When I threw it down, I was skeptical myself, but then ASIA (36A: Silk Road locale) and MASTS (29D: Pair from a deck, maybe) and then VITAL (39A: Key) went right in, and that eastern section was done - word of the day: UMIAK (30D: Literally, "women's boat"). There are no women (that I can see) in this one:
UMIAK comes down into KIOSKS (41A: Stands in line at an airport?), giving a K-heavy feel to the west, which complements the Q-heavy feel of the center pretty nicely. That's the thing about most DQ puzzles: they tend to be Scrabbletastic.
This puzzle was made easier than it might have been by the aforementioned Q staircase. After QUEEN MUM (27A: Noted centenarian of 2000, familiarly) and QUIET GAME (33A: Parent's ruse to hush noisy kids), I was wondering how long that Q sequence could continue. It's six Qs long! Had QUADS for QUINT (33D: Rare delivery) and had to wait a bit on QUETZAL (35D: Guatemala's national bird), but otherwise, all easy. My favorite, though I have not eaten there in a decade or more, is QUIZNO'S (38D: "Mmmm ... Toasty!" sloganeer). It's a perfect clue, and who doesn't love the "Only in a Crossword Clue" word "sloganeer?" Another thing about DQ puzzles - they tend to have an ear for pop culture and commercial phrases.
Beside the QUADS/QUINT mix-up, there was just one other answer I screwed up - the only thing like a stumbling block in the whole puzzle: I quickly and confidently put in IRS AGENT where IRS AUDIT was supposed to go (53A: Dodger's dread?). When exactly none of the short Downs in the SE would work for me, I re-evaluated. UPI (54D: News inits.) then made AUDIT obvious. While I'm down here, let me give a hearty shout-out to SAM SPADE (56A: Sleuth who "looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan"). That's from page 1 of The Maltese Falcon, one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, and the most important American Crime Story of them all. That opening description of Spade is worth the price of admission (and lets you know that novel spade looks Nothing like movie Spade, i.e. Bogart - I wonder if that confused anyone today). I am sad to say that I do not recall At All the Joan Collins role in question at 58A: Spellbinding "Batman" villainess played by Joan Collins (The Siren). I haven't seen the campy 60s TV show "Batman" since I was a child. I know Joan Collins best as Alexis Carrington Colby on "Dynasty."
- 1A: Abstainer's order (Adam's ale) - I'm just glad I'd seen this before (learned it from xwords), or I'd have been mightily confused. ADAM'S ALE is water (i.e. the only thing Adam had for drink in Eden, I guess).
- 9A: Ranger rival (Devil) - nice winter sports theme going in the NW, with the NJ DEVILs crossing hockey legend Phil Esposito, aka ESPO (10D: 1969 and 1974 Hart Trophy winner, familiarly), which in turn crosses an Olympic skiing event, the SUPER G (17A: Olympic event since 1988).
- 16A: Accidental in the key of B or E (D natural) - had DNA in place before I saw the clue and figured I was going to see something about "C.S.I." in the clue. Other music answer in the grid is clued via one of my favorite pieces of music - 23A: Beethoven's "Pastoral Symphony" is in it (F Major).
- 20A: Three-ingredient treats (s'mores) - tasty gimme. For more junk food, see also ROLOS (32A: Chocolate snacks). Here's the ROLOS jingle I grew up with. Ah, the 80s.
- 22A: Peck parts: Abbr. (qts.) - I just like this because it goes nicely with another (amazing) "peck" clue: 41D: Pecking order? ("Kiss me!")
- 34A: Job preceder: Abbr. (Esth) - "preceder" is up there with "sloganeer" and "denizen" and "slangily" in the crossword clue vocabulary Hall of Fame.
- 37A: Burger replacement (Rehnquist) - that's just genius. I stared at -QUIST for many seconds before my "Aha!" moment came.
- 40A: One way to wax (eloquent) - when POETIC didn't fit, this came pretty readily (part of the Q staircase).
- 42A: Member of an "ooky" sitcom family (Itt) - a great great gimme. From "The Addams Family," in case you're wondering.
- 52A: Title woman of a film that won the 1985 Camera d'Or (Oriana) - by far the most obscure thing in this puzzle, as far as I'm concerned.
- 1D: Tynan player in "The Seduction of Joe Tynan" (Alda) - a gimme, though I know not why.
- 7D: Rimes with "Blue" (LeAnn) - grrrreat clue. "Blue" was the song that rocketed her to stardom in the mid-90s. She was a young teenager whose voice was very reminiscent of Patsy Cline's.
- 9D: Band ensemble (drum set) - I thought the term was DRUM KIT. Maybe onetime commenter "Keith Richards" can tell me what Charlie calls it.
- 11D: Number between drei and funf (vier) - just grateful that the puzzle stayed within my German number wheelhouse, i.e. 1-4. If answer had been FUNF, I'd have been a dead man.
- 15D: Largest tenant of Pittsburgh's tallest skyscraper (U.S. Steel) - very gettable, but does "largest" here refer to the size of the company (in financial or workforce terms) or the size of the actual floor space they take up? Maybe both.
- 24D: German wine region (Mosel) - not to be confused with Mosul. Seriously, do not confuse them. Your vacation would be totally ruined.
- 26D: 2002 Denzel Washington drama (John Q) - thank god for the Q staircase, or I would have had some trouble here.
- 45D: Modern home of ancient Medes (Iran) - I know this very well, and yet my first instinct was to think of "home" as an actual structure one might live in, i.e. TEPEE or QUONSET HUT.
- 46D: Feeding tubes? (ziti) - clever, but gross.
- 49D: When the Feast of Lots is observed (Adar) - know your Jewish months! Or at least know this one.
- 50D: Periodic riser (tide) - nice, ambiguous clue on a very familiar answer. A good Friday feeling all around. Thanks, DQ.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld